The Philadelphia Eagles stormed into MetLife Stadium and embarrassed the New York Giants 48-22 a few weeks ago. The loss was demoralizing for Big Blue, but the tides have shifted for both franchises since that Week 14 game.
The Giants defeated Washington in the following week, lost on a last-second 60+ yard field goal in Minnesota, and then annihilated the Colts last week. Back in Week 14, the Eagles’ path to the number one seed seemed all but certain.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, MVP candidate Jalen Hurts suffered a shoulder injury against Chicago in Week 15. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew lost the last two games against the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints. Reports suggested that Hurts was close to playing against the Saints but could not dress.
Week 18 is now a crucial game for the Eagles. If the Giants can earn a road win in Philadelphia, and the 49ers defeat the Arizona Cardinals, then the 49ers secure the number one seed in the NFC and the lone coveted first-round bye.
Much like the 2007 season, the Giants are locked into their playoff seed; they are the sixth seed, and nothing can change that. Questions about starters playing surround the Giants program, and the answers aren’t clear yet. Still, I’m sure the Giants want some retribution against a bitter divisional rival. How the path to that manifests is yet to be seen.
Changes in personnel
The Giants’ recent offensive success can be attributed to Mike Kafka’s adjustments, Daniel Jones’ development, and a heavier reliance on 11 personnel. New York is running the football successfully out of the lighter personnel package, yet their identity isn’t defined by their rushing attack like earlier in the season.
At the end of the Giants’ Week 13 tie against Washington, the Giants used quick passing concepts to move the football in overtime. The Eagles’ offense jumped out to an early 21-0 lead, and the Giants’ defense could do little to slow down Jalen Hurts.
Since that game, the Giants have used 11 personnel 79 percent (Washington 2.0), 86.4 percent (Minnesota), and 80.3 percent (Indianapolis). Jones is decisively distributing the football, and Mike Kafka is creatively using STACK sets to the boundary to attack off-leveraged defenders in Cover-3 and Quarters.
As the Giants have evolved their offense, the Eagles did as well to accommodate a different starting quarterback. The Eagles have also used a substantially higher rate of 11 personnel since they played the Giants.
On the season, Philadelphia uses 11 personnel at a 72 percent rate. Since the Eagles’ win in MetLife over the Giants, they’ve used 11 personnel 78.9 percent (Chicago with Hurts), 81.2 percent (Dallas with Minshew), and 84.9 percent (New Orleans with Minshew). The competitive games are one reason why there’s a bigger shift to 11 personnel - a package that the Eagles ran only 59 percent of the time against the Giants.
The style and effectiveness of Shane Steichen’s offense are contingent on Hurts’ health. The Eagles without Hurts are a completely different offense. However, Philadelphia’s personnel has changed since Week 14.
Star tight end Dallas Goedert has returned to the lineup. Hurts has not played with Goedert since he was injured in Week 10. Star right tackle Lane Johnson suffered a torn adductor; he’s delaying surgery and will attempt to return in the playoffs but won’t be available in a now-important Week 18 matchup.
Third-year former fourth-round selection out of Auburn, Jack Driscoll, started at right tackle against the Saints. He surrendered five pressures and two sacks. The continuity on the Eagles’ offensive line is diminished.
Wink Martindale’s approach
We will wait and see who dresses for this Week 18 game, but the approach of Martindale should remain the same - pressure the quarterback, especially to Driscoll’s side; and especially if the quarterback is not named Jalen Hurts.
The Giants blitzed the Eagles on 50 percent of their defensive snaps in Week 14 and applied pressure on 30.6 percent of the total snaps. Azeez Ojulari (who may not play in this game, and only played 7 snaps last week) had two sacks, and Ryder Anderson and Zyon Gilbert each had one. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence each had four pressures.
The Giants struggled to defend the big play; they surrendered 19 plays of 10+ yards or more, and 11 of them were on the ground. We all remember the deep touchdowns to AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith on fourth down; however, the damage on the ground done by Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ running backs were just as devastating.
New York was primarily in middle of the field closed (MOFC, Cover-1/3, or Cover-0) against the Eagles. They ran zero snaps of Cover-2 zone and one snap of 2-Man Under right before the end of the first half. The Giants trusted their young corners against a potent passing attack and were burned, but their inability to shut down the run led to 253 yards on the ground and 144 from running back Miles Sanders.
The Giants played their base 3-4 personnel package at the third highest rate against Philadelphia, yet still struggled to stop the run. Counter has given the Giants problems all season, and the issues with the Giants at linebacker persist, albeit Micah McFadden and Jaylon Smith looked solid against the Colts.
Getting the Eagles into second-and-long types of situations can allow the Giants to employ their quarter package with Tony Jefferson and Landon Collins - the latter of which did not dress the last time these two teams played.
The overall defense will be assisted if Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney play; the latter looked good in run support against the Colts last week. If Jackson does not dress, the Giants will have to rely on Fabian Moreau, Cor’Dale Flott, and Nick McCloud once again.
If Hurts is the quarterback, the Giants have to find ways to hit him and deter him from using his legs. If the quarterback is Minshew, the Giants should have more fun with their simulated pressure and fire zone blitz package that we saw extensively used against Indianapolis. It’s difficult to employ that approach against a mobile decisive quarterback like Hurts, but the Giants can get after Minshew, who is now playing with a backup right tackle.
The Giants’ defense slanted their end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS) often against the Colts, with the slant-side linebacker assuming Read Key Force responsibilities on the edge with secondary contain. This approach can help the closed side (tight end side) if Minshew is in the game.
Forcing Minshew to throw while also rattling him with exotic pressure looks could be a path to keep the Giants in the football game. New York could look to bracket and cloud AJ Brown as they did to Washington and Terry McLaurin in Week 15. The skill set of Goedert and DeVonta Smith make that approach scary, but playing the Eagles isn’t an easy task.
The approach to playing Jalen Hurts or Garnder Minshew will be drastically different. Minshew is a fine backup quarterback, but Hurts is an MVP candidate with a slew of weapons at his disposal. The lack of Lane Johnson should create more pass-rushing opportunities for the Giants, and I’m sure Wink Martindale will look to scheme pressure and free rushers to the right side and throughout the Eagles’ offensive front.
Defeating the Eagles in Philadelphia is not easy. The Giants have not won at Lincoln Financial Field since a 15-7 win in 2013. Peyton Hillis was the Giants’ leading rusher, Matt Barkley was the Eagles’ starting quarterback, and Josh Brown kicked five field goals for the Giants - yeah...it was that long ago.
The Giants have the chance to play extreme spoiler against a team that embarrassed them last month. The same team, different coaching regime, chose to sit a rookie Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld in a competitive game that eventually placed Washington in the playoffs over the Giants back in 2020.
The blood is bad between these two franchises, and the history is ripe with mutual detestation; that may likely not factor into Brian Daboll’s decision on who plays in Week 18.